Buying a new computer can be an expensive ordeal. When you go to a big box retailer or manufacturer, you often pay for components you don’t need or get overcharged for the ones you do. The best solution is to build your own computer. What most people don’t realize is it’s actually surprisingly easy to do. To help you design your next computer, or just to become familiar with what to look for, WorldStart is doing a 10-part series on the components you’ll need to build your own computer.
In each part, I’ll offer recommendations on the components discussed. I’ll recommend parts to accommodate those both looking for value and those looking for high performance. Since manufacturers are always updating styles and features, your final decision should be based on your own judgment, aided by the knowledge you gain from these articles. You know what you want from your PC, I’m here to help you design it.
Part Six: The RAM
The RAM may sound like a simple choice, pick the size you want, but there is a lot more to it then that. The type of memory you choose can have a major impact on your computer’s performance in some unexpected ways. The specifications you need to look at are detailed below.
Type/Slot: Memory comes in a few different form factors and pin layouts. Most desktop computers will take 240 pin DDR3 memory. Currently though, some small-form-factor computers will use laptop 204 pin SO-DIMM DDR3 memory. Always match the RAM type with your motherboard’s RAM slots.
Size/Sets: The amount of memory you receive on the RAM stick will be labeled in GB. Most memory will be sold in matched pairs, two RAM sticks designed to be used together. Most modern desktop and laptop motherboards offer the ability to run memory in dual channel configuration, greatly improving the bandwidth. To operate in dual channel you must have two (or 4) memory sticks which share the same timings. Memory kits will be shown as 8GB (4 x 2GB) which indicates the total memory size is 8 GB made up of 2 chips each 4 GB.
Speed: The speed rating, measured in megahertz (Mhz), is part of the measurement that affects how much data can be transferred in a given time. The most common memory speed is DDR3-1600 (which can be shown as PC3-12800) and generally the higher the number, the more bandwidth the memory has. While higher speeds offer higher performance, the benefit can be quickly outstripped by the cost. Look at your motherboard’s specifications for speed support, as putting DDR3-3000 in a DDR3-1600 maximum slot will result in your memory running at DDR3-1600 speed, but you paying for DDR3-3000 RAM.
Timings: This specification is highly technical, but in simple terms has to do with the time it takes the RAM to read and write data from the memory. RAM timings will typically be four numbers with a dash between each, 9-9-9-24 for example. The lower the numbers, the faster the memory. For most people, excluding extreme overclockers, you can ignore the timing specification. If you’re deciding between two otherwise identical memory kits, purchase the one with lower timings.
Heat Spreaders: These pieces of aluminum or copper dissipate the heat off of your memory more efficiently. While most users do not need them, there is no disadvantage to getting memory with them and they do make the memory more distinctive- looking.
There are literally hundreds of choices by dozens of manufacturers so I’m going to list the specifications below each of my recommendations. The budget recommendation is going to be where I feel the best value/performance is right now, and the premium recommendation is going to be what I would purchase if I was building the system for myself.
In the case of RAM, there are higher-end options and more expensive memory – but I don’t feel the benchmarks support paying the large premium for the slight performance increases. Keep in mind the pricing on RAM is very volatile and pricing can change on a nearly daily basis.
Budget RAM – Mushkin Enhanced Silverline 8GB – $69.99
This memory kit offers 8 GB of DDR3-1600 RAM from a respected manufacturer at a reasonable price. With small integrated heat spreaders and reasonably quick timings, it even offers some premium features not expected in this value line of memory.
- Matched Pair: Yes, two 4 GB chips.
- Speed: DDR3-1600
- Timing: 9-9-9-24
- Head Spreader: Yes, though small.
- Model: 997002
Premium Recommendation – G.SKILL Trident X Series 16GB – $179.99
The Trident-X series offers DDR-2400 memory with reasonably fast timings and a few features overclockers and modders will love. The higher 1.65 volt rating will help keep the RAM stable when overclocking and the fins attached to the heat spreaders can be removed if you need the clearance space. With XMP settings built in to the RAM, your motherboard should be able to automatically select the DDR-2400 speed and change the needed setting to take advantage of it.
- Matched Pair: Yes, two 8 GB chips.
- Speed: DDR3-2400
- Timing: 10-12-12-31
- Head Spreader: Yes, with fins that are removable if needed for clearance issues.
- Model: F3-2400C10D-16GTX
P.S. Why not 4GB on a budget or 32 GB for premium set ups? The simple answer is that you only need as much RAM as you’ll use and not more. With 4 GB of RAM, you’ll probably be OK, but there are combinations of programs and games that can easily use more. Having over 16 GB means that under almost all situations, you’ll have never use the additional ram thus making it completely worthless to have bought the extra RAM.